Lonely Planet Writer

Stunning new helicopter images give a new angle on London skyline

A series of stunning new images from aerial photographer Jason Hawkes gives a new perspective on London. Recent skyscrapers like the Shard and the Walkie Talkie thrust tall into the sky, but the images also focus on the Thames, which moves like a great snake through a number of the images.

One shot shows the Isle of Dogs  in the foreground, the green parkland around Mudchute contrasting with the towers of Canary Wharf and the City behind.

Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf, London aerial view.
Isle of Dogs, Canary Wharf, London aerial view. Image by Jason Hawkes

In another, the roads that move through Piccadilly Circus seem dwarfed by the canyon-like facades of shopping streets, as people gather around the statue of Anteros  like animals around a water hole.

Night aerial view of Piccadilly Circus.
Night aerial view of Piccadilly Circus. Image by Jason Hawkes

A third shows Tower Bridge at dusk, millions of lights on bridges and in buildings charting the life of the city as another day winds to a close, while the Tower of London stands grandly among the modern buildings of central London.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge at dusk.   Image by Jason Hawkes

Hawkes has been taking photos from helicopters for 25 years, and his work has featured in 50 books. “To shoot my images I fly in an AS355, which is a small five-seater twin-engined helicopter,” he says. “You either take off the door or slide the large back door open. I’m wearing a harness and headset and all my gear is strapped in. To get images looking directly down you can either lean out of the helicopter, but I usually ask the pilot to stick the helicopter on its side so you can see directly beneath. It’s a pretty quick manoeuvre so you have to work fast.”

It sounds hair-raising, but Hawkes has got used to his vertigo-inducing workplace. “I’ve been doing this for so many years it’s second nature”, he explains.

The London Eye, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf.
The London Eye, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf. Image by Jason Hawkes

Hawkes has filmed in Cornwall, Libya and Yellowstone National Park, but he returns again and again to London. His images don’t just focus on big sights – one of his pictures shows a netball court in Southwark, South London, long shadows stretching out from the players, reminding the viewer that the city is about small details and leisure time as well as iconic buildings.

A netball court in Southwark. Image by Jason Hawkes

Other pictures pick up on patterns and textures, showing how the less obviously glamorous aspects of London – including a paper recycling plant in Charlton, southeast London – can have a surreal beauty.

A paper recycling planet in Charlton, southeast London.   Image by Jason Hawkes

And Hawkes thinks the changing city is if anything growing more and more fascinating. “I fly over London more than anywhere else,” he says, “sometimes a few times in a week. It’s a great city viewed from above, and while it does become quite normal it’s always a privilege. The city changes so much across each season and personally I think most of the new buildings are only adding to the great look the city has.”